Tuesday, January 6, 2015

When The Homeless Refuse Your Apple Pie

I want to start an open, honest, respectful conversation on a topic I feel doesn’t get much attention—especially in the way I seek to bring it to light.

The homeless are everywhere we go—from the streets of the cities we live in, to the inner workings of systems and places we don’t even know exist.

When I was in school in Toronto I would walk from Union Station to school. The evenings are when I would see the most individuals homeless or begging on the street for change. As a student, the chance of having cash on me was very, very rare. On the other hand, the chance of having a freshly baked good to offer was basically 110%.

This is commonly how a situation would play out:
I would walk down the street and an individual would ask for some change.My response would be ‘no, sorry, but I have some bread/cookies/buns/pie if you want!”

Fill in the blank time! I want you to fill in the individual’s response to my offer of baked goodies. What do you think they would say?

I think, as a very generalized answer in hopes of finding a common response of what most would expect, we would assume the individual we are offering our goods to would gladly accept. I mean, freshly baked anything is delicious, right? Most of my friends feel that way. When I bring goodies to my husbands coffee shop, and offer his staff and friends I see some form of deliciousness, the usual response is how excited they are to have something sweet and freshly baked to enjoy. When I go to a friends place for any sort of gathering with handcrafted and freshly baked treats in hand, people are generally excited and eat at least one of whatever I showed up with.

Now let’s go back to the original scenario— 50% of the time someone accepts my offer, and the other 50% is all rejects.

I’ll be honest, at first it would shock me people would say no.
In my head I’m thinking ‘aren’t you hungry? I’m offering you delicious, freshly baked food that you can eat. I wouldn’t say no and I have a fridge full at home.’
How ridiculous of me to think that—how inconsiderate, how dehumanizing.

There are a few specific times where I offered food to people and their no response has stuck with me…
- I offered a man an apple on my walk home from work one day since it was all I had. He said no because he was allergic to apples.

- At 2:30 in the morning while biking to work a lady yelled at me, asking if I had food for her. I offered the woman a couple slices of bread (which I was going to toast at work) and a banana. She took the bread but not the banana because it was cold and she doesn’t like cold bananas.

- I was walking home from the bus stop after school and had some fougasse (think baguette-type bread but shaped like a ladder or a leaf and filled with rosemary, thyme and olives). I offered it to a gentleman. After describing what it was, he tore off a piece to taste it. He said it was too dry and went on his way without the fougasse.

The one response that stuck with me the most was on my last day of the semester…
-I was walking to Union Station in blizzard conditions and a lady was asking for change. I offered her all I had—a box of various choux paste products; cream puffs, paris-brest and eclairs. She said no but explained it was because she would rather eat a nutritious meal then eat the sweets I was offering.

I can easily remember the moment I realized that, by assuming a homeless individual should be grateful and accept what I have to offer, I was completely dehumanizing them and turning them into these hollow vessels capable of nothing more than to say ‘please’, ‘yes’, and ‘thank-you’. I removed from them the very things that make them who they are—their choices, their preferences, and their taste buds.

None of these individuals were disrespectful to me. Yet, in my wandering thoughts I was being disrespectful to them. An act, which started as a way to help someone, turned into a selfish thought process of ungratefulness and a definite lack of viewing someone as God sees them—an absolutely amazing person, whose passions and interests were given to them to make a difference in the world. Each person is someone who is created to do amazing things, and as someone whose palette preference attribute to the awesome person they are. The same way I don’t like green peppers (they taint everything they end up on!), the gentleman didn’t like the bread. How I could live without eating rice and beans, the lady could certainly live without eating cold bananas. It’s all the same, yet, as soon as someone is asking for food, we typically expect them to take whatever we have available.

I can’t say I know what I would do if I was on the opposite end of the situation. If I was the one asking for change and instead, an individual offers me a slice of pizza covered in green peppers and olives. I dislike olives and green peppers more than any other foods. Would I accept it and power through because I’m hungry? Would I gratefully say ‘no thanks’ in hopes of gathering enough change to buy something I actually want to eat, or hope someone else offers me something more appetizing?

I don’t know what I would do. But one thing I do know is removing an individual’s personal preference makes someone feel worthless, meaningless and unimportant. No one wants to feel that way—not you- the individual reading this, not me- the person writing this, and not the individual asking for change or food on the street you pass as you are going about your day.

Next time someone refuses what you have to offer, I challenge you to ask them what they would prefer—maybe you can get it for them, or maybe you can make a note of it for next time you see them (especially if it is someone you see often enough on your daily commute). One gentleman sitting at Union Station prefers black tea to coffee. It’s a small fact, but imagine handing him a hot coffee on a cold winter night… now imagine handing him a hot black tea instead. While the thought of handing him the cup of tea brings a smile to my face, imagine what it can do for him—not only will the beverage warm him up, he will feel like a real person whose likes and dislikes were thought of—He has value. He is important. He is human.

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